Building on local energy for the Las Vegas Aces, this year’s edition of All-Star Weekend (ASW) was hosted in the city’s scorching heat on 14 and 15 July. Selected players compete in the All-Star Game, but players also fly in to cheer for their teammates, participate in brand activations and bring their presence closer to fans. Similar to record-breaking viewership during this season, the 2023 All-Star Game experienced an average of 850,000 viewers, which makes it the most-watched edition in 16 years.
A recent report by Kantar reveals that women’s basketball is more popular with gen Z than with American sports fans overall: compared to the 21 per cent of American sports fans across all ages who identify as Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) fans, the gen Z demographic has an increased fanbase of 27 per cent. These statistics are similar to a gen Z interest in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) women’s basketball players and point to an industry-wide bridge between the WNBA and college players, like the Jordan Brand hosting a 3v3 Youth Tournament hosted by Kiyomi McMiller during ASW.
Travelling with a multi-generational roster of NIL and WNBA athletes, the Jordan Brand provides opportunities for rising players and their fans to start participating in the momentous weekend. While McMiller and Kiki Rice are the brand’s first signed NIL athletes, a Jordan Brand spokesperson says their work with the “next generations of female basketball players is a testament to the brand’s commitment to deepening connections to the game and culture at large.” Highlighting relatable, rising talents instead of aspirational, established players offers a fresh approach to making the league more accessible to new audiences.
Studying the All-Star Game reveals another historic milestone—it’s the first time that the Jordan Brand’s Jumpman logo appears on players’ jerseys. Stamping an official endorsement on the league’s sportsmanship and style, this detail invites a wider audience to find those Michael Jordan levels of energy in the WNBA. Within the Jordan Brand’s athletes, Satou Sabally and Rhyne Howard are two younger All-Star players who broadcast their personalities, style and impact on the game through social media.
Sabally’s rising reputation as an athlete includes achievements like her signature sneaker, a graffiti-patterned Air Jordan 37. Describing herself as “sophisticated,” she plays with an inspirational combination of strength and feminine style. The Dallas Wings player believes that this empowerment impacts a younger generation of fans, “When little girls watch us play basketball and have that swag about us, and we look good, there’s so much attention and glamour around it. It elevates basketball, too.”
“Now, the Jordan Brand is [showing] that women’s basketball is coming up, and it shows in people watching, people are excited on social media,” says Satou. “Increased engagement also means increased attention on style and highlighting individual stories, that’s also something beautiful that comes out of that.”
Working with stylist Olive Duran, Sabally resonates with a younger generation in her pre-game outfits. She’s stepped up her style, expressing her personality through trending pieces like a tiger-striped Ganni dress and a printed mesh top from Jean Paul Gaultier, all styled with Jordan sneakers.
As the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 WNBA Draft, Rhyne Howard has hit explosive game highs in her first two seasons with the Atlanta Dream. Apart from signing a multi-year deal with the Jordan Brand, Howard works with Xbox to amplify the presence of WNBA players in the NBA 2K23 and 2K24 franchises.
Confirming her potential reach beyond the court, gamers have noted Howard within the top 20 of the highest 2K ratings for WNBA players. Putting on an impressive show affects more than the actual season statistics, Howard says she’s focused on “making the games a little bit more fun to watch for the fans buying into it.”
TikTok offers a platform for both players and content creators to introduce the league while avoiding the stiffness of traditional sports media. Perfect for highlighting the game’s buzziest moments, showing exclusive locker room shenanigans and answering fan questions on LIVE, the league’s official account boasts 1.3 million followers, Sabally has 12.4K followers and Howard has 19.7K followers. From established players like Las Vegas Aces’ reigning MVP A’ja Wilson, who has 102.6K followers, to younger players like this year’s No. 1 draft pick Aliyah Boston, who has 83.3K followers, TikTok introduces new fan-player interactions.
Howard and Boston appear in TikTok dance videos with Auntie Nae, a basketball coach-turned-influencer. “They’re super relatable, and I’ve enjoyed seeing the rookies step into their own and be a part of this turning point,” shares Auntie Nae. “All of them have great personalities outside of the court that draw fans in, too.”
Emphasising players as people, she adds that “the stats, wins or losses, are always popping up, but to see your favourite player do a TikTok reminds you that they’re more than what they do with a basketball.” After attending this year’s draft and ASW, she’s set a goal of attending as many in-person games as she can.
As the WNBA continues to play out its 27th season, keep an eye on these younger players as they continue to change the game, on- and off-court.